“Democracy is not a spectator sport, democracy is you!”
U.S.-Senator Bernie Sanders visited Freie Universität
Jul 21, 2017
There was no holding back when the 75-year-old U.S. politician finally entered the Max Kade Auditorium in the Henry Ford building amid thunderous applause after a half-hour delay. Like a pop star, Bernie was greeted by all 1,200 members of the audience chanting “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie” loudly. The occasion for the American’s visit to Dahlem was the introduction of the German translation of his book “Our Revolution,” having been invited by the book publisher Ullstein Verlag and ZEIT Magazine in cooperation with Freie Universität.
His message – standing up for the socially disadvantaged and against Trumpism – was received exceedingly well by the majority of the audience, which was mostly made up of students.
In the primaries of the U.S. presidential election, Sanders faced defeat against Hillary Clinton. Nonetheless, he and his followers are continuing to emphatically advocate for an America that needs to rethink its economic and, above all, social policies. “Let me talk a little bit about some of what interests all of you, that is: What the hell is going on in the United States?” began the politician. In view of the recent events at the G7 Summit, Sanders emphasized that the relationship between Europe and the USA since World War II has always been an essential one. “In my view, this is a relationship that must continue – not only for the people of the United States and Europe, but for greatest stability throughout the world.”
“We need strong international cooperation”
Sanders decisively argued against the policies of U.S.-President Donald Trump, who threatens to withdraw the USA from the Paris Climate Agreement. “It would be foolhardy, it would be dangerous for the United States to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change,” he exclaimed. “Obviously that is a horrific mistake.” Climate change is not a “hoax,” but a dangerous reality, caused by human activity. “I want you to know that in the United States many states, including my own state, are moving aggressively to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.”
Climate change is a clear example for the need for international cooperation, Sanders asserted.
“Germany alone is not going to stop the warming of the planet, it’s not going to stop increased floods, droughts, and heat waves, and rising of sea levels, and the salinization of oceans all over the world.” Germany, China, or the United States cannot do it alone: “We need strong international cooperation if we are to leave this planet for our children and grandchildren in a way that is healthy and habitable.”
Sanders implored the audience, “No matter what Trump might say or do – don’t think that the people of the United States are turning their backs to this crisis.” He said that international terrorism is also an issue that calls for everyone to come together. Many in the audience were probably wondering what Sanders, the politician, stands for. “It is no great secret that for many, many reasons I am no big fan of President Donald Trump,” he said. Above all, it is his domestic policy; the U.S. government’s budget plan, which was recently made public, is an “outrageous” document, the most “horrific budget ever submitted to congress in the modern history of the United States. Nothing less than a massive transfer of wealth from the working families, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the poor to the top one percent. Trump’s plan will throw 23 million Americans out of their health insurance they currently have.”
Worrisome How Little Respect Trump Shows toward Democracy
The U.S. President discredits the media in an alarming way and attacks established institutions. “I am very concerned about Donald Trump’s disrespect for democracy, for tolerance, and traditional American values,” said Sanders. “We all have friends and I have colleagues in the U.S.-Senate who are very conservative, I know people in the Congress with whom I disagree with on every issue. But the difference between them is they are honest, this is what they believe, and I respect that. Some of them are my friends. But what we see in President Trump is a man who time after time after time tells lies and outrageous claims that are not backed up by facts.” One example was when he claimed that some 3 to 5 million people voted illegally. He wanted to make it more difficult to vote and to prevent people who are against him from voting. “If that’s not undermining everything America stands for, I don’t know what that is.”
“I am outraged at President Trump’s efforts to divide the American people up on the basis of race, religion, or national origin,” said Sanders. The task of a democratic leader is to bring people together, not to divide them up, to which he added, “The current President seems to be most comfortable among autocrats and authoritarian politicians than with leaders of democratic nations.”
Applause continued to erupt during Sanders’ speech and his closing discussion with the Editor-In-Chief of ZEIT Magazine, Christoph Amend. Votes of folks in despair have been ignored for far too long, said the Senator. “We in Washington have not listened to that pain. For the last 40 years while technology has exploded and while workers have become more productive, while an enormous amount of wealth was created in the United States – in the amidst of all of that, the middle class has been shrinking.” In the United States 43 million people live in poverty. This development is no mere American phenomenon, but rather a result of the global economy and multinational enterprises that avoid paying taxes. Sanders said, “My greatest fear is that the United States today is moving in the direction of becoming an oligarchic form of society. An oligarchy in which a small number of billionaires controls our economy as well as our political life.” This is also a global phenomenon, an international issue. “Globally, the top one percent owns more wealth than the bottom 99 percent of the world’s population. The wealthiest eight people in the world own more than the bottom half of the population.” The task of all people should be not to accept this injustice: “We have to stand up! Democracy is not a spectator sport,” said Sanders and encouraged, above all, the younger generation to be active: “Democracy is you!”
This text was originally published in German on June 1, 2017, in the campus.leben online magazine by Freie Universität Berlin.